INTERVIEW: How Nollywood can win an Oscar — Filmmaker, Femi Odugbemi

Femi Odugbemi
Femi Odugbemi [Photo credit: Femi Odugbemi's Facebook page]

Femi Odugbemi is a Nigerian filmmaker and producer of international repute. His works celebrate the rich diversity of the Nigerian and African experience. He produced Tinsel, a widely acclaimed soap opera that started airing in August 2008.

His filmmaking credits include ‘Gidi Blues’, ‘Battleground’, ‘Maroko’ and ‘Bariga Boy’.

He is also one of the four Nigerians formally invited into the voting membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the United States of America.

The academy organises and decides the nominations for the universally acclaimed Oscars award for motion pictures. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks about the possibility of a Nollywood film bagging an Oscar among other issues

PT: Congratulations on your admission into the voting membership of the Oscars. Does this mean that Nollywood is an inch closer to winning an Oscar?

Femi Odugbemi is a Nigerian filmmaker and producer of international repute. His works celebrate the rich diversity of the Nigerian and African experience. He produced Tinsel, a widely acclaimed soap opera that started airing in August 2008.

His filmmaking credits include ‘Gidi Blues’, ‘Battleground’, ‘Maroko’ and ‘Bariga Boy’.

He is also one of the four Nigerians formally invited into the voting membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the United States of America.

The academy organises and decides the nominations for the universally acclaimed Oscars award for motion pictures. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he speaks about the possibility of a Nollywood film bagging an Oscar among other issues

PT: Congratulations on your admission into the voting membership of the Oscars. Does this mean that Nollywood is an inch closer to winning an Oscar?

Femi: It’s a win for Nollywood as we’ve looked forward to this opportunity for a long time. Now, there is diversity and the doors are opening for us as an industry. It is is now left for us (Nollywood) to create works that are culturally defining. We need to tap into our heritage and history to create larger than life characters that will create stories that the world would appreciate. We also need to do it at such technical excellence that competes with other films of international quality and get nominated. We no longer have the excuse that there is discrimination or that the Oscars are an all-white affair. This is a challenge to our industry and that challenge is that if we commit ourselves to excellence, to best practices and global standards, who knows, Nigerian films should be winning the Oscar.

PT: Do you honestly think a Nollywood films can win an Oscar judging by the quality of films being churned out?

Femi: We have made enough films to at least earn a nomination and we really do have excellent people and excellent talents. And yes, some of our films definitely can compete. The challenge for us is to systematize our excellence to create a factory line that ensures that every single year there is an Oscar nomination.  Nigeria is powerful enough in global affairs to constantly have a film in the lineup and that is our challenge. It is a delightful personal honour but at the end of the day, what is the point of being a judge if I never see a Nigerian film on the list, what’s the joy?

PT: For the benefit of those who do not understand how the Oscar nomination process works, tell us what your new role entails?

Femi : The academy has several categories and there are the voters for the different categories of the academy award which is the Oscars. There are also the voters for the governors of the academy and the academy is active throughout the year. The academy also deals with things like restoring good films, they discuss the issues of digitization and it is also a forum for filmmakers and the people involved in cinemas and televisions from across the world to connect. They also get to exchange issues, it is a networking platform but the greatest deal is that they get to vote and obviously because Oscars has such huge economic implications across the world, that part of their duty is much enhanced. Yes, as part of their duty, they get to vote but they only have one vote.

So, for those who think I can now be blamed if a Nigerian film does not win Oscar, I hope it’s a joke. I will assure that I will vote for an incredible Nigerian film, I will push, I will fight, I will crawl, as I’m sure the others that are selected from Nigeria will also do the same. But patriotism alone cannot help; we need our industry to take up the challenge so that we (the Nigerian judges) also do not become a laughing stock, that’s what is important.

PT: Does this also mean that Nollywood is now being recognised internationally as having a vibrant industry?

Femi: That conversation about how Nollywood is not  ‘global’ and all those people who talk down the industry need to be asked if any of them have any representation at the Oscars. What has brought Nollywood this far is that people recognise the fact that there is an industry that works, an industry that has an ambition, and most essentially, an industry that has the potential so, I’m excited. It took a long time for India to have a winning film and it also took a long time for South Africa to have a nominated film. We’ve come a long way; we’ve waited too long ourselves. China has a big film making industry and it’s not like they get on the Oscar nomination list every year, so it’s just important to take it as a challenge to be better and rise together.

PT: Away from the Oscars, you were recently named head of faculty of the Multichoice talent factory. What does it entail?

Femi: Our goal is to create 20 leaders that would transform Nollywood. I’m excited because it represents the new future for all of us. When we create these kinds of leaders, our industry grows in leaps and bounds. Yes, it’s exciting for me because I love working with young people. I love their energy and I also love the fact that their creativity is fresh and enhances mine but there is no legacy than to contribute to building the next generation of an industry. I believe this is an industry that has been extremely kind to me and it has given great opportunities and on that plat I give to the next generation to help their development too.

PT: How many beneficiaries are you looking at?

Femi: There will be 20 students who will undergo a fully-funded educational programme aimed at furnishing them with the skills to work and innovate in film and television production. The programme will take place at the West African regional MTF Academy based in Lagos and will be overseen by acclaimed local film & TV industry experts.

PT: What areas would you be focusing on during the training?

Femi: Until our film industry is again powerfully story-driven, we will not be able to affect the economy, politics, and governance, as we should. For us, this is going to be the focus, storytelling, using all the powers of cinema.  We are also going to teach film critiquing because a lot of those who critique our films are yet to know how critical film critiquing is to making us better as storytellers. If you critique a young man’s work in such harsh and discouraging tones such that they become immune to criticism, you actually destroy their capacities to create better stories on the future.

PT: How well has Nollywood fared in the last few years?

Femi: The truth is every industry is a work in progress, if you looked at Hollywood 100 years ago, you will be shocked how much better Nollywood has come compared to then in the same amount of time. What I think is critical is that we have a passion to make film and what we are trying to do at Multi Choice Talent Factory is to also look at creating a passion to learn. The way we grow is to continue learning, nobody knows everything because the industry we are in is so dynamic and constantly changing thanks to technology and the experience of learning has to be embedded in our culture of filmmaking.

PT: Not much attention is being paid to the business side of film-making. Glamour appears to be taking the front burner.

Femi: Yes, and that is an important module we will explore during the training. I already talked about how we want the talented to prosper. Right now, if you look at the industry, it appears as though the majority of those who benefit from the activity of Nollywood don’t seem to be the filmmakers. This is because a lot of filmmakers are still struggling to define where the money is but that also has a lot to do with the amount of knowledge of business that our filmmakers have. We need to also elevate that so that we are not just creative but creative entrepreneurs. There is a whole module about how to package your work for presentation, how to find funding and investment, how to understand how the investment climate works. If you don’t speak the language of those who will bring the funds, they can’t dash you money, you have to bring the business file on the table. Distribution has to be enlarged beyond I’m going to the cinema and we need to deal and understand the issue of piracy and rights. All of those things are part of our curriculum and hopefully, they will empower our graduates to be far more knowledgeable and know how their talents prospers them.

It’s a win for Nollywood as we’ve looked forward to this opportunity for a long time. Now, there is diversity and the doors are opening for us as an industry. It is is now left for us (Nollywood) to create works that are culturally defining. We need to tap into our heritage and history to create larger than life characters that will create stories that the world would appreciate. We also need to do it at such technical excellence that competes with other films of international quality and get nominated. We no longer have the excuse that there is discrimination or that the Oscars are an all-white affair. This is a challenge to our industry and that challenge is that if we commit ourselves to excellence, to best practices and global standards, who knows, Nigerian films should be winning the Oscar.

PT: Do you honestly think a Nollywood films can win an Oscar judging by the quality of films being churned out?

Femi: We have made enough films to at least earn a nomination and we really do have excellent people and excellent talents. And yes, some of our films definitely can compete. The challenge for us is to systematize our excellence to create a factory line that ensures that every single year there is an Oscar nomination. Nigeria is powerful enough in global affairs to constantly have a film in the lineup and that is our challenge. It is a delightful personal honour but at the end of the day, what is the point of being a judge if I never see a Nigerian film on the list, what’s the joy?

PT: For the benefit of those who do not understand how the Oscar nomination process works, tell us what your new role entails?

Femi: The academy has several categories and there are the voters for the different categories of the academy award which is the Oscars. There are also the voters for the governors of the academy and the academy is active throughout the year. The academy also deals with things like restoring good films, they discuss the issues of digitization and it is also a forum for filmmakers and the people involved in cinemas and televisions from across the world to connect. They also get to exchange issues, it is a networking platform but the greatest deal is that they get to vote and obviously because Oscars has such huge economic implications across the world, that part of their duty is much enhanced. Yes, as part of their duty, they get to vote but they only have one vote.

So, for those who think I can now be blamed if a Nigerian film does not win Oscar, I hope it’s a joke. I will assure that I will vote for an incredible Nigerian film, I will push, I will fight, I will crawl, as I’m sure the others that are selected from Nigeria will also do the same. But patriotism alone cannot help; we need our industry to take up the challenge so that we (the Nigerian judges) also do not become a laughing stock, that’s what is important.

PT: Does this also mean that Nollywood is now being recognised internationally as having a vibrant industry?

Femi: That conversation about how Nollywood is not ‘global’ and all those people who talk down the industry need to be asked if any of them have any representation at the Oscars. What has brought Nollywood this far is that people recognise the fact that there is an industry that works, an industry that has an ambition, and most essentially, an industry that has the potential so, I’m excited. It took a long time for India to have a winning film and it also took a long time for South Africa to have a nominated film. We’ve come a long way; we’ve waited too long ourselves. China has a big film making industry and it’s not like they get on the Oscar nomination list every year, so it’s just important to take it as a challenge to be better and rise together.

PT: Away from the Oscars, you were recently named head of faculty of the Multichoice talent factory. What does it entail?

Femi: Our goal is to create 20 leaders that would transform Nollywood. I’m excited because it represents the new future for all of us. When we create these kinds of leaders, our industry grows in leaps and bounds. Yes, it’s exciting for me because I love working with young people. I love their energy and I also love the fact that their creativity is fresh and enhances mine but there is no legacy than to contribute to building the next generation of an industry. I believe this is an industry that has been extremely kind to me and it has given great opportunities and on that plat I give to the next generation to help their development too.

PT: How many beneficiaries are you looking at?

Femi: There will be 20 students who will undergo a fully-funded educational programme aimed at furnishing them with the skills to work and innovate in film and television production. The programme will take place at the West African regional MTF Academy based in Lagos and will be overseen by acclaimed local film & TV industry experts.

PT: What areas would you be focusing on during the training?

Femi: Until our film industry is again powerfully story-driven, we will not be able to affect the economy, politics, and governance, as we should. For us, this is going to be the focus, storytelling, using all the powers of cinema. We are also going to teach film critiquing because a lot of those who critique our films are yet to know how critical film critiquing is to making us better as storytellers. If you critique a young man’s work in such harsh and discouraging tones such that they become immune to criticism, you actually destroy their capacities to create better stories on the future.

PT: How well has Nollywood fared in the last few years?

Femi: The truth is every industry is a work in progress, if you looked at Hollywood 100 years ago, you will be shocked how much better Nollywood has come compared to then in the same amount of time. What I think is critical is that we have a passion to make film and what we are trying to do at Multi Choice Talent Factory is to also look at creating a passion to learn. The way we grow is to continue learning, nobody knows everything because the industry we are in is so dynamic and constantly changing thanks to technology and the experience of learning has to be embedded in our culture of filmmaking.

PT: Not much attention is being paid to the business side of film-making. Glamour appears to be taking the front burner.

Femi: Yes, and that is an important module we will explore during the training. I already talked about how we want the talented to prosper. Right now, if you look at the industry, it appears as though the majority of those who benefit from the activity of Nollywood don’t seem to be the filmmakers. This is because a lot of filmmakers are still struggling to define where the money is but that also has a lot to do with the amount of knowledge of business that our filmmakers have. We need to also elevate that so that we are not just creative but creative entrepreneurs. There is a whole module about how to package your work for presentation, how to find funding and investment, how to understand how the investment climate works. If you don’t speak the language of those who will bring the funds, they can’t dash you money, you have to bring the business file on the table. Distribution has to be enlarged beyond I’m going to the cinema and we need to deal and understand the issue of piracy and rights. All of those things are part of our curriculum and hopefully, they will empower our graduates to be far more knowledgeable and know how their talents prospers them.


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